Review: Broken Social Scene at 9:30 Club

“Let’s make this therapy.” The sold-out 9:30 Club and the stage were equally crowded for the first night of Broken Social Scene’s pair of D.C. shows last Tuesday. In support of their latest offering, Hug of Thunder, the 10 touring members of the Canadian collective delivered a lively run through their career dating back to 2003’s breakthrough You Forgot It in People. While the musicianship was airtight, the vibe onstage was loose and joyous, as longtime friends reveled in the therapeutic power of music.

In the six years since their last tour, Broken Social Scene have definitively graduated to elder statesmen status in the post-Internet indie rock boom that nurtured their early success. “I’m 41 years old and I’m in a handclap band with my friends!” de facto band spokesman Kevin Drew exclaimed with gleeful disbelief. The band exuded genuine camaraderie—sharing mics, harmonizing, and playfully interacting in between songs, constantly rotating instruments and stage positions.

The show hit the ground running with the driving “KC Accidental” off People, a move that got the excited crowd dancing from the get-go. The three guitarists and bassist/co-founder Brendan Canning used the majestic wordless sections of the song to strike their best rock star poses, raising their instruments to the sky, much to the crowd’s delight. Next came “7/4 (Shoreline)” with the remaining two members of the Broken Social Scene entourage, vocalists Amy Millan (notably of Stars) and Ariel Engle, who were fixtures for the remainder of the evening, singing both lead and backup vocals and helping to cover the on-record contributions of Emily Haines and Feist, who are not on tour with the band. The first couple of songs also established the excellent rhythm section that anchored the band all night. Drummer Justin Peroff’s playing was bold and precise with quick fills and hi-hat work, a style complimented by the well-mixed bass, a rotating role that sometimes included two players at once.

With a setlist that favored upbeat rockers over ballads and experimental numbers, Broken Social Scene effortlessly stayed engaging throughout the 90-minute set. The epic second half of “Fire Eye’d Boy” provided an early peak that lead into a sea of “WOO!”s during “Texico Bitches,” with Drew animatedly pointing the mic at the crowd for each exclamation. New tracks “Halfway Home,” “Hug of Thunder,” and “Skyline” washed over the crowd with warm layers of guitars and vocals, more lush and pop-oriented than the band has ever sounded.

As the momentum continued to build in the last third of the set, the instantly-recognizable drum beat of “Almost Crimes” gave way to the biggest moment of the concert, as screams reached the rafters and the four (four!) guitarists split into pairs to form two separate face-offs. When the main set transitioned into the encore, Drew addressed the intense political atmosphere in the country, offering his Canadian band’s support: “We’re here for you.” Drew assumed the role of spiritual leader for the night, offering generic-yet-sincere ruminations about living a happy life and being grateful (including “the selfie killed art”). The healing feeling throughout the show was a welcome respite from the current state of turmoil that Drew referenced.

All photos by Jordan Wilhelmi for Capitol Sound DC.

Follow Broken Social Scene at the links below.